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We need to take every opportunity to protect the people we love – Part 2

TINA Y. GERBER, Special to The Standard

Tina Y. Gerber wrote a very important article last week, and we didn’t have enough room to print it all. Here at the Standard, we feel it was significant enough to include the remainder of her insight. This elaborates on the conditions Seniors have been enduring and shares concern for the strain, caring staff are under, at Long Term Care (LTC) facilities. Here is part 2:

So many people have decided to leave the health care field, not only in hospitals but also in LTC Homes. Why, because of the treatment they receive. The experiences of the last 16 months have been very difficult. I also decided it was time to retire; and with my knees, I could no longer cope with the doffing and donning constantly. It felt like the workers were forever in a war zone. Staff are exhausted, burnt out, overwhelmed, overworked and underpaid. When Bill 124 was passed during the pandemic, it was like a slap in the face to the health care workers across the province.

Once called heroes in scrubs, they are now denied an increase in pay of just over one percent. This is an issue of necessary dignity for not only seniors but for those who have given so much of themselves.

When my sister and I were visiting, we would often take my Mother to the washroom; it was quicker than waiting 20 or 30 minutes before her call bell was answered. If we hadn’t done this, by then, an accident would have already happened. How degrading is that to anyone? Many times, I would dress and get Mother ready for bed. I was constantly worried she wouldn’t have the proper care required, to keep her in adequate health and meet her needs. I don’t blame the staff; I understand the challenges we face on the front lines. My Mother loved her “girls” and tried not to complain, but the government needs to implement an effective plan. It can’t be just talk about one in the distant future, due to the pandemic, even though it has finally brought much-needed attention to Long Term Care.

Bedding and laundry are provided. Still, most have their own bedspread, a comforter brought from home, something familiar, along with family photographs to line the walls. I made sure everything was clean and fresh.

Because I was a personal support worker, I constantly looked at her body, checking for bruises and marks. My sister and I often found things not explained and would bring them forward, when staff were unaware. Just a few weeks before her death, I took pictures of Mother’s soiled sheets and her repositioning pad. I stripped her bed, informed the staff of such, and then spoke to the Nurse on duty.

The Nurse in charge told me, “Well, Tina, the personal support workers have more than just your Mother to care for! What? I found her comforter had been pulled up many times, but her sheets were not even made underneath!

Like most women of the past, ladies proudly made and starched their sheets because they valued their dignity. When she began to have limited speech over the last few years, my sister and I often wondered how Mother felt when her sheets were dirty, when they had forgotten to wipe her face after meals or when medications were given. Mother hated having food on her lips and face and would tell us. We would ring for staff to bring washcloths so we could wipe her face ourselves. At times, we brought those things from Home. She hated the fact we reported those things because she liked the staff. What I struggle with is the staff knew we came regularly.

We also hired a PSW, and with me being a PSW, we would absolutely check everything. Over the years, while my Mother lived in Long-Term Care, my sister and I sent many, many letters advocating for her rights. So, what happens to a resident who has no advocate, no one to be their voice?

I did forward another written complaint, which they forgot to respond to, until I included it in my letter about keeping Mother safe, when and if she’d return to the Home after the accident. The doctor told my sister we would have to make “other arrangements” as her Home was not safe for her to return to at the time.

After this last incident, Mother had difficulty responding to our yes or no questions. Before the last accident, staff asked, “do you want to go to bed now?”, you heard her respond in a loud, clear sentence. In an effort to be considerate of others, my Mother always felt it must be her fault if something happened, and she made this clear when first arriving at the Home. Mother was 90, and we feel she had many more years left.

Dementia and Parkinson is a horrid disease, in which your loved one may not know or recognize you, but you still know and recognize them. They deserve just as much love, care and understanding as individuals who can actively respond.

The law states, Long Term Care Homes must provide the residents with safe, consistent, and high-quality resident-centred care.

As we know, the pandemic has exposed many long-standing deficiencies in the system, which has caused high levels of physical, mental and emotional suffering for seniors and their families.

The government needs to address the issues LTC is facing. It is a true crisis leaving Homes understaffed and employees overwhelmed. Like any profession, we need to find loving, caring and compassionate workers. I have personally had the pleasure of working with many such individuals. Then there are the “other kind of individuals” who are just thinking $$$ and leave a questionable taste in your mouth!

To protect seniors in LTC homes, we need a proper staffing level which includes interdisciplinary, full-time staff to improve continuity of care. This has long been plagued by underlying systemic vulnerabilities, severe underfunding, and chronic understaffing. These things will continue to threaten the lives of vulnerable residents without immediate action. We need long-term solutions to keep our vulnerable seniors safe.

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